It’s hard to pronounce, let alone spell – but following his very public spat with a fellow Senator, David Leyonhjelm is fast turning into a household name.
And that is precisely what the Liberal Democrat Senator intended when he repeatedly refused this week to apologise for telling the Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young in the Senate to “stop shagging men”, according to political commentators.
Sen Leyonhjelm’s jibe, criticised as “sexist abuse”, followed what he claims was a comment by Sen Hanson-Young “along the lines of all men being rapists”. She denies saying that, and has accused him of “slut-shaming me”.
The exchange late last week came amid the debate over whether women should be expected to take responsibility for keeping themselves safe, sparked by the rape and murder last month of Melbourne comedian Eurydice Dixon.
Norman Abjorensen, a political analyst at the Australian National University, believes that Sen Leyonhjelm, who faces a re-election battle at the next federal election, is purposely sparking outrage in order to gather support.
“The more he gets in the news, the more familiar his name will become to people who want to vote against the establishment,” said Dr Abjorensen. “He’s doing a bit of a Trump by trying to make a name for himself by being deliberately outrageous.”
Sen Leyonhjelm defied all calls this week – including from the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the federal Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer – to apologise. He called Sen Hanson-Young a “blatant misandrist”, and also called Studio Ten host Angela Bishop “a bigoted bitch” following an on-air discussion about the row.
On ABC radio, Sen Leyonhjelm denied charges of sexism. “I’m an Australian, and I’ll tell people they’re bastards or bitches … irrespective of their gender,” he declared.
For some, the saga is reminiscent of the sexist attacks to which Julia Gillard was subjected as Prime Minister – attacks to which she responded in her infamous parliamentary speech denouncing “misogyny”.
Dr Abjorensen said: “Julia Gillard was treated appallingly, and a vast number of Australians found that very disturbing because she was attacked because of her gender.
“There are no restraints on speech and behaviour, and it signals to the bullies that they can say or do what they like, and it is not what a civilised society looks like.”
Helen Dalley-Fisher, program manager at the Equality Rights Alliance, believes the government should be doing its best to combat sexist behaviour in the workplace.
“The government should be leaders in [this] discussion … making it very clear what are acceptable standards,” she said. “When a Senator makes an inappropriate comment to another Senator, it’s a matter that needs to be taken very seriously”
Ms Dalley-Fisher added that Sen Leyonhjelm appeared not to understand that his behaviour amounted to “sexual harassment in the workplace”. – @KamiliaHannaV1, editing by Kathy Marks